Like with all of his players who have a major decision to make, Dabo Swinney had all the research handily available to help Travis Etienne decide whether he wanted to turn pro early or return to Clemson for another season.
When they sat down before Clemson’s trip to the Fiesta Bowl, Swinney expected Etienne to want to hear what his coach had to say first, but Etienne surprised Swinney when he told him right off the bat that he was learning toward completing his Clemson career.
Four days after the loss to LSU in the national championship game, Swinney wasn’t as shocked as many others that Etienne made it official: The school’s all-time leading rusher was coming back to get his degree and play for Clemson in 2020.
“He was really leaning that way,” Swinney said Wednesday while recalling their initial conversation. “I said, ‘Well, why is that?’ and he told me why. I said, ‘OK, we’ve got a conversation that we need to have. Here’s this information and let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about what that means.’ So I wasn’t surprised he said after the bowl game, ‘Hey, I’m coming back.’”
The College Advisory Committee of the NFL makes sure that underclassmen who are thinking of entering the draft early have all the information they need to make a decision.
Etienne, one of the best running backs in college football in 2019, received a second-round grade from the committee. First-round grades for running backs aren’t plentiful in this era of the NFL, but that wasn’t the only factor Etienne considered.
“If he leaves here as a second rounder next year, he’ll do cartwheels,” Swinney said. “He’s got his degree. He feels ready. He just feels complete. I think leaving early for him as a second rounder, I think he felt a little incomplete.”
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Swinney said Etienne’s return gives him a chance at improving his stock, but it also means he’ll graduate and get another year to mature.
Swinney wouldn’t go into details about the feedback Etienne received from the NFL and the areas he needs to improve, which Swinney described as "nitpicky." His head coach says Etienne is the best running back in college football, Swinney wants to see him continue doing what's gotten him to this point.
“He just needs to continue to be consistent,” Swinney said. “He needs to continue to be a complete player. I think he’s done that, but he needs to stay the course.”
Etienne has led Clemson in rushing all three of his seasons. He recorded 1,614 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns in 2019 while being named ACC Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. Etienne has also set the school and conference marks for touchdowns in his career.
“He’s got a great future ahead of him,” Swinney said. “I’m excited about that. He’s been a great leader already.”
His return also means No. 9 belongs to him for one more season. Swinney said he had 10 players lined up asking to get it for 2020, calling them “vultures” when it comes to jersey numbers.
“It’s nice to know he’s back,” Swinney said.